Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Dislocation of the West

Philosophy and Imperial Nationalism

Prof. Dr. Naoki Sakai


Since the 1960’s the term ‘culture’ has been one of the categories that has been most widely-used in academic and popular discussions about social, political and artistic formations. The disciplinary conditions and discursive formation that sustained this popularity of ‘culture’ may be broadly called ‘culturalism.’ The period of ‘culturalism’ was over by the end of the last century, and the current boom in culture may well point to a different formation. My primary focus is on East Asia and Trans-Pacific areas, but I believe that my inquiry into ‘culture’ can be extended to other areas of the world. To be more precise, I would like to eventually conduct my inquiry in a ‘region-free’ or ‘area-free’ manner, for, throughout it, I am concerned with the question as to how the unity of culture is imagined or figured out by means of cartographic imagination. What I refer to by the unity of culture is the representation of culture by means of a spatial trope, as a closed space marked by its border into an outside and inside. Even today, expressions such as ‘trans-cultural’ presume such a cartographic figuration. Then what is at stake in representing culture in terms of spatial figuration? The focus of my research in the Institute for Advanced Study at Konstanz is about the power relations operative in the culturalist figuration and the tropics of socio-political formations during this period. More broadly, what I will pursue in my research on the topic of culture can be summarized as the problem of schematism in the microphysics of power.
It is possible to discern more than several conceptual lineages going back to plural sources. Until the 1940’s, the use of ‘culture’ was far from homogeneous, and the term still carried the old connotations of ‘individual culture,’ the cultivation of taste, the sense of ‘being civilized’ and the manufacture of new subjectivity. Consequently the term could not be dissociated from the markings of the social class and cultural capital. In the early 20th century there emerged a new dominant use of the term ‘culture’; it equated ‘culture’ with the homogeneous constitution of the national community. Thus, the concept of culture began to connote something similar to what British Liberals called ‘the feeling of nationality,’ but it was framed up in the reverse positionality. They were not talking about ‘our camaraderie’ or ‘our nationality’ but theirs that was posited as something to be destroyed or disdained since it was first of all their enemy’s national culture. Later this wartime intelligence investigation about the enemy’s behavior patterns and system of conviction - the National Character Studies - was transformed into a set of disciplines generally called ‘Area Studies’ at American universities in the 1950’s. Of course the enemy countries, whose national characters American scholars sought to identify, were initially Germany and Japan, but other ‘areas’ such the Soviet Union, Latin America, China, and Southeast Asia, were added to the set of disciplines. This transition implies the two following issues:
First. It took more than ten years to establish the United States collective security system in Northeastern Asia after the collapse of the Japanese Empire. In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, culturalism was given rise to when countries in East Asia, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, were securely placed under the political and military hegemony of the United States. This means that the obsessive concern for national culture was an expression of nationalism in these countries. It expressed the aspiration towards national independence there, on the one hand, and the new relationship of domination, on the other hand. Paradoxically the nationalist aspiration became possible under the regional hegemony of the United States.
Second. The term culture, as it is used in culturalism, has more to do with the assertion of national unity than the description of social reality. Thus, ‘culture’ was a practical category rather than an epistemic one. In this respect, the popularity of ‘culture’ was closely connected to the fate of nationalism. However, the unity of the national community implied by the culturalist use of ‘culture’ could be sanctioned only within the world in which the international order was sustained in the Cold War and Pax Americana.
Against the general understanding of the historical backdrop briefly described above, I want to conduct research on the topic of culture with a view to the following problems.
1) How could the uses of culture connoting the social superiority of one group to another be displaced by other uses implying national or ethnic solidarity? How did this shift from the trope of distinction to that of homogenization take place?
2) In order to assert national solidarity, the locus of distinction must be displaced from the inside of a spatially-imagined national community to an international comparison. Then, what sort of register was selected in order to sustain this displacement?
3) In East Asia, the register of cultural comparison was very frequently that of civilization. Yet, it was not the same as the pre-war notion of civilization heavily associated with colonial teleology. Until the 1990’s the colonial implications of ‘civilizing’ were rather overlooked, yet the comparative scheme of the West and the East was almost always present in cultural – or specifically culturalist – comparison.